Travels with Dadhi: A Dream Reimagined
This is a guest post by Eddie “Leaky Boots” Lough.
“Leaky Boots, you have to understand that in India, there is no such thing as knives, forks or spoons!” Nitin Anturkar (trail name—Dadhi—meaning beard in Marathi, his native language) carefully removed any small bones from his Pan-Fried Rainbow Trout as I shoveled Pasta Pomodoro into my face at dinner in Skyland, the small resort on Virginia’s Skyline Drive.
His eyes glazed over, he stared at a point above my head, and I wondered what he was thinking. Was it about the cuisine of the North or the South? Or was it the dehydrated high carb, spicy vegetables, cream of wheat, and sweet desserts sent to him by his buddy in hometown Pune, India that he would have to endure for weeks?
Dadhi and I met, somewhat inauspiciously, during the pandemic fall of 2020.
On that day in PA, I learned a lot about hiking with my new friend. On long climbs, I learned quickly that he didn’t like to stop, didn’t like to chat. Dadhi cut his hiking teeth in his mid-20s in the Himalayas. Of course, he didn’t like to stop. Roped together on 1000-foot climbs, a teammate couldn’t. It was heads down, dig it out, churn and burn to the top. At that young age, not only did Dadhi and his teams climb three unnamed mountains for the first time, but they let the residents in those base villages do the naming honor… in their own native language!
The following year, starting at Rockfish Gap, we would complete over 56 miles of the AT together during one week in April 2021. Dadhi had asked me to join him at the beginning of his planned thru-hike. He was flip-flopping to Maine, and then Rockfish south to Springer Mountain. Two years before, he had suffered a heart attack.
Dadhi is no stranger to hiking through adversity.
This retired 62-year-old GM executive hikes with bone spurs in a replaced left knee. He has occasional issues with gout. His right hand numbs up in chilly weather. Notably, Dadhi also walks with a stent in the left anterior artery of his heart, the result of that attack a few years ago. (In fact, he runs EKGs on his wristwatch after every substantial climb). This is how he describes that experience:
“It was Friday, December 14, 2018.
I noticed it almost instantaneously! My breathing became heavier. Shooting pain started right at the heart. I frantically looked around for Anjali (my wife) and found her chatting in the crowd. I almost yelled at her to come outside in the lobby. I collapsed on the bench. Joyous kids were screaming and playing “hide and seek” around me. Their cheerful racket sounded like a faraway TV program in another room. I was engulfed in pain. Somewhere inside my head, I was screaming, “Go home, go home!”. But I just could not get up. AND then they called 911.
I lay flat on the cold, hard floor with eyes closed. I could hear the ambulance siren – that familiar sound of the city. From the corner of my eyes, I saw a flashing red light. They came in, checked my vitals and brought in a stretcher.
It was a weird feeling. There was no anxiety of the future, no thoughts on “what” and “why”, no yearning to live, no anguish of dying. It did not occur to me that I may never see a calm face of my wife or see my kids. Somehow, my mind was focused on the moment in front of me. They were struggling in a moving vehicle to insert the needle in my vein for IV and I was thinking, “How cool it is to get a ride in the ambulance!'”
In his research he found only one person, a lady, with whom he corresponded, to have thru-hiked the AT after suffering such an attack. He might become the first recorded man to do the same.
Dadhi’s first roadblock caused a halt in his training and delayed the beginning of our trip. In late March, a simple non-Covid sore throat had him riding from the Canton, Michigan (his hometown) ER to the one in Dearborn. After four numbing injections around his tonsils, the doctors drained a three cm infected pocket. The resulting antibiotic treatment postponed his second Covid shot. No trail training. Just healing at home.
A Long List of Fears
So instead, on Friday, April 16, 2021, our trek began from Rockfish Gap with the Indian ceremonial good luck act of breaking a coconut over a boulder… and three days slackpacking. Dadhi’s wife, Anjali, and his son, Tejas, supported our launch. On a drizzly Monday as Tejas drove us to the trailhead, we sensed our luck would continue with the sighting of 29 random whitetail deer. There we donned our big boy packs and took off.
“I had a long list of fears. Another “widow maker” heart attack in the remote part of the trail, broken replaced metal knee, gout attack, frostbite of right hand that starts becoming numb below 60F, occasional freezing of left shoulder, severe pain of weak nerves below ankles, skull fracture on Pennsylvania boulders due to imbalance, my brown skin, interaction with people in rural USA, sudden knowledge of impending emergence of cicadas, solo hiking, crime on the trail, stepping on poisonous rattlesnake or camouflaged copperheads, staring at bears, rats chewing my toes in shelters, bee stings, attack on my nervous system by tick bites…. This freaking list of fears was very, very, very long.”
“Will You Still Love Me Without Fingers and Toes?”
With a somewhat alarming weather forecast of under 30 degrees and winds above 30 mph for the middle of the week, we had to make a decision: Tejas booked us the last cabin available at Lewis Mountain for Wednesday night. Later that day at Pinefield Hut, we chatted with Stumbles a Lot and her husband, Caretaker, section hikers like me, who just happen to maintain the Tumbling Run Shelter on the AT outside Waynesboro, PA.
“I have 15,000 alarms set for 5 am every day on the trail. The tunes available on my alarm clock or on my cellphone cannot even compare to the spectacular symphony I hear on the trail. Period!”
The next morning it was up and at ‘em for the 8.6-mile trek to Hightop Shelter. At age 77, I was doing a personal mental victory lap on my second day with a full pack when Chocolate Chip, a 78-year-old, rolled into the shelter, fully loaded, for a 16-mile day! We faced two 1000-foot climbs the next day. Not mentally ready for that with a full pack, I opted to jump off the trail with Choco at his car at Swift Run Gap, and he took me to the Lewis Mountain cabin.
In contrast, Dadhi hiked all day. When he came into view, the weather was changing dramatically. For the trip, I was carrying a simple 30° goose down quilt and a light down puffy. That night outside… 22°F and 32 mph winds… A windchill of 3°F. I felt the lyrics to that classic country song, “How Can I Love You if You Don’t Go Away? “ should have changed to “Will You Still Love Me Without Fingers and Toes?”
Thru-Hiker Bubble No. 1
We took a zero day and then slackpacked on our last day together into Skyland. A lot of cliffside climbing and boulder field scrambles made our day. And passing us all day…was it Thru-hike Bubble 1? For here they came…Left Field, Pocket Doc, Spicy Brown, Floss…a 20-something young woman carrying a pack bigger than she, an NYC guy taking a gap year, the kid from Puerto Rico…onward NOBO’s. I left Dadhi on Saturday morn as he continued his thru-hike. Two weeks later, I finished the Shenandoahs which I had started in 1975.
“I sleep for 10 hours on the trail among beautiful spiders, rats, lots of bugs, huge bees, snoring strangers, and individual sleeping pads that make huge crimping sounds with each toss and turn. Constant dribbling of rain, rustling sound of leaves, huge buzzing of cicadas and loud cracklings of falling branches add to the cacophony. I can barely sleep for more than 7 hours in my quiet Michigan bedroom.”
After a few days, things began to unravel.
Dadhi was bitten by a tick and put on a 21-day antibiotic. Then he injured his right heel and barely got off the mountain safely. One cortisone shot and back. No deal. Back to Canton, Ohio for rest and recovery. Back he came to exit Virginia, finish West Virginia and Maryland, and head into Pennsylvania.
My plan was to meet him at Pine Grove Furnace and hike with him for four days. I wanted to test a lighter (21lbs) pack in 92°F temperature and 80% humidity as he slackpacked that day. We left the Ironmaster Hostel after meeting Spotter, Maui, Lolly, and Pop, all heading north. I started to struggle midday, and I told Dadhi to speed up ahead of me. Goldie and Steel Buns blew by me with spirited hello’s. I was becoming toast. Burnt toast. I barely made the 11 miles where Tejas waited for us. Changing my plans, I limped back to Baltimore the next day as Dadhi continued his jaunt.
Two days later, Dadhi collapsed.
Two days later, about five miles north of Boiling Springs, Dadhi collapsed on the Trail. He came to lying on top of his pack! Dragging himself to the next road crossing about two miles away, he summoned an ambulance from Carlisle General Hospital. Doctors couldn’t pinpoint the cause but surmised dehydration. An Uber ride to the Allentown Airport, and this unlucky man was under his doctor’s care again later that day back in Canton.
“In Michigan, we have 9 taps for potable water (in bathrooms and gardens). Usually, I walk a maximum 10 ft to get water from any point at my home. Never mind, we have one million water sprinklers in my lawn. In the shelter on the trail, I sometimes walk 2,500 ft and climb down 500 ft to get water. By the time I am back to the shelter, I have lost half a liter of water just through my sweat itself!”
Glutton for Punishment?
Fast-forward to June 23rd, and people were starting to spot that beard again. A glutton for punishment? Dadhi couldn’t abandon his “beloved” Trail. He decided to skip ahead to Duncannon, PA to start his next section and finish one of the most treacherous tracts on the Trail. His doctor had found nothing wrong with him after the fall, so Dadhi focused on his hydration needs.
However, over nine days and 60.5 miles, his poor health legacies caught up with him. Scratching his right forearm from a fall from a slippery boulder, he watched blood trickle from the wound for several hours. Two other wounds on both shins swelled with internal bleeding. (The side effects from his anticoagulation medication). On another occasion, his right foot slipped and, in controlling his fall, his left metal knee bent excessively causing severe pain. Then the sense of imbalance and bouts of slight dizziness amplified on boulder fields…and crossed his imaginary safety boundary line. Dadhi’s dream of an AT thru-hike within 365 days…was over.
“There is no music, no social media, no TV, no movies, no serial, no news, no stress, no violence, no hatred, nothing on the trail! I am a calm, stress-free, happy, enlightened, entertained, rejuvenated soul with simple and beautiful life….Yeah! I live in a weird “other” world .. in Michigan! I cannot wait to go back to my AT!”
Not Easily Deterred
On August 8, Nitin Dadhi Anturkar came “back to my AT.” He had noticed that his pulse rate was shooting up very high on climbs (which had not happened before). Then it remained above 100 for several hours after he reached his campsite (usual rate at rest 55-65). It was not the shooting rate but the lingering one that drove his cardiologist’s decision on August 9th to advise a final 2021 backpacking termination.
Yet Dadhi is not one to be easily deterred, and his journey is far from over. How do I know? Last week he sent me a text that read, “Leaky Boots, I understand that backpacking in the fall in the Smokies is gorgeous!”
About the Author
In the mid-70’s, while teaching and coaching, I started a wilderness equipment shop called the RidgeRunner, in Baltimore. MD, where we helped hikers realize their dreams. In the pandemic year of 2020, I turned 77 and retired from an 18-year stint as a high school counselor (and survived my own school active shooter experience). These days, if you see me climbing up and down on my three-story fire escape here in Roland Park, it’s because I am training to hike hut-to-hut in the White Mountains in July. I am looking forward to the day when Dadhi and I can break another coconut together!
READ NEXT – Appalachian Trail Magic: A Bill Irwin Memory
Featured image and all quotations courtesy of Nitin Anturkar via www.dadhionthetrail.com.
This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!
To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.